More Steps to Forgiveness

Note:  This is the second of a two-part series.

Here are more suggestions for letting go of your hurts and resents in order to forgive:

  • Look at the person who offended you apart from the offense, weighing the good against the bad.  When somebody hurts you, it’s normal to have negative feelings about that person.  Honor those feelings, but also try to separate the offender from the offense and view his/her behavior in the context of your relationship.  Don’t just look at the moment when you were mistreated; look at all the moments you’ve shared, weighing the good against the bad.  Make sure you’re not cutting out of your memory much of what is wonderful about the other person.
  • Figure out a way to remain in the relationship without feeling controlled, inauthentic or canceled out, and without having to cut the other person out.  This ability to be yourself in the presence of the person who has hurt you gives you the freedom to stay physically and emotionally engaged with him/her because you are no longer defined by the mistreatment of you.  In the Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner, reminds us that we can stand back from pain without standing back from the person who hurts us.  Robert Karen suggests that we may be angry “in a warm, creative, connected way” without isolating ourselves or setting barriers.
  • You may want to forgive yourself for such self-effacing behaviors such as: failing to appreciate how deeply you’ve been wounded; in allowing what happened to shatter or shame you, or in losing time and energy engaging in imaginary, vindictive dialogues.
  • Create opportunities for the offender to make good and help you heal.  To cut a path to forgiveness, you need to create opportunities for the offender to hear your pain, care about your feelings, and compensate for the harm done to you.  If you treat that person as evil incarnate, and blast that person with your silence and rage, you can be sure that nothing healing will take place.  Forgiveness requires reciprocity.  You must decide whether to open the door and let him/her in; s/he must decide whether to cross the threshold and reach out to you.  But the least you could do is to let him/her know what you need in order to heal.  When you spill out your angst directly to the person who has hurt you, and that person listens attentively and caringly, the two of you engage in the act of healing.

That being said, please note:  How you convey your outrage or shame is likely to affect the way the person who has hurt you responds back.  John Gottman, one of the nation’s leading marital researchers, has observed that the way a person sends a message, shapes the way it comes back.  “Discussions invariably end on the same note as they begin,” he reports.  He therefore recommends you hold back your harsh words of criticism or contempt and share not the hate—but the hurt.   That way you’re likely to evoke a less defensive, more supportive response.

When you express only hard emotions in a raw, accusatory manner, you’re likely to win a Pyrrhic victory, crushing your opponent but losing the game.  The person who hurt you may get your point but want no part of you.  You may succeed in making him/her feel rotten about him/her self, but you won’t get a shred of compassion in return.  Buffeted by your intense hostility, s/he’s likely to respond by emotionally distancing, counter-attacking or feeling just plain paralyzed—all death knells to forgiveness.

If you want a person to address your wound, don’t reinforce the idea that nothing the person does will make a dent in your feelings.   When you express soft emotions, you create a climate in which the person who has betrayed you is more likely to feel your pain and respond in a comforting and sympathetic manner.  This doesn’t mean that you should swallow or sugarcoat your anger.  It means that you should try to go beyond anger, conveying the depth of your hurt or fear.

Source:  How Can I Forgive You? By Janis Abrahams Spring (Perennial Currants)

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